Hey, remember when Syfy showed science fiction? How many times have you heard that question asked amongst the nerderati or amongst your circle of nerdish friends? See, there was once this time that the Sci-Fi channel, later rebranded SyFy in a much maligned and mocked marketing campaign, but the somewhat radical respelling of “sci-fi” came with a shift to do less compelling and original programming, and do more cheap reality shows and ridiculously over-the-top “original” movies like Sharknado, Dinocroc Vs Supergator, et al. In a surprising and interesting new interview, one SyFy exec is saying that the channel screwed the pooch when it comes to their programming the last few years, and at a time when genre TV has been booming on other network to boot.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bill McGoldrick, head of original programming at SyFy admits that in a world where Game of Thrones is on HBO, The Walking Dead is on AMC, and every major network now or soon will have its own version of a DC Comics superhero show, the channel named after the genre needs to do a better job representing it.
“In terms of where it was before with original content and some of the series that were on the air, maybe they were more procedural, more lighthearted in tone—and by the way, those shows worked really well for a long time,” said McGoldrick discussing recent SyFy hits like Warehouse 13 and Eureka. But more befitting a network named after science fiction, McGoldrick now has his eyes on space. “We have a couple really big shows that are trying to accomplish that — Ascension, The Expanse in particular, which play more toward I think the harder core sci-fi fan who used to be perceived as niche but is now mainstream and commercial in a way they have never been before. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
To another piece of SyFy’s recent programming, reality shows and wrestling, McGoldrick says that he and his team are going to have to take a different approach. “On our channel, it’s going to have to be more distinctive. We are going to have to invent formats that are specific for our network,” he said of reality shows. “We had a long run with paranormal shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness. Our audience really rejects those derivative filler reality shows. We have to work harder with smart producers to give them a different flavor of reality TV.”
Mostly though, its serious original series that’s got McGoldrick’s attention now, and he includes recent SyFy offerings like Defiance and Dominion as the first wave of the channel’s commitment to quality, ambitious genre TV. There’s also the small matter of Twelve Monkeys, the series based on the Terry Gilliam movie coming up in the new year too. While no new iterations of Stargate, Farscape or Battlestar Galactica were mentioned, McGoldrick didn’t rule out a reprisal from any of those three franchises either.
It is a rare day indeed that someone in a position of influence in a major media company admits they did bad, so I salute McGoldrick for acknowledging his network’s failure (and hopefully he could have a conversation with the people currently running the Space channel here in Canada since they’re running about two years behind in SyFy-style missteps). Now if we can get CBS off the pot and bring back Star Trek to TV, we’ll be in business.
To wet your whistle, here’s a sample of SyFy’s next wave of “serious” sci-fi offerings:
*Childhood’s End. Mini-series, 6 hours. Stars Charles Dance. Based on Arthur C. Clarke‘s sci-fi classic, follows a breed of aliens called the “Overlords,” who manage to peacefully invade and rule Earth, and create a pseudo-utopia that comes at the price of human identity and culture. Premieres 2015.
*The Expanse. Series, 10 episodes. Based on the series of books by James S.A. Corey, a thriller set two hundred years in the future, The Expanse follows the case of a missing young woman who brings a hardened detective and a rogue ship’s captain together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history. No date.
*Hunters. Series, 13 episodes. Based on Whitley Strieber‘s novel Alien Hunter, a Philadelphia cop searches for his missing wife leads and discovers a secret government unit that assembled to hunt a group of ruthless terrorists who may not be from this world. Premieres 2016.